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Mar. 6, 2021 | Saturday
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NOTL care home deaths rise to five as positive cases surge
Niagara Long Term Care Residence staffer Jessica Sage gets her first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (Supplied)

Five people have died after a COVID outbreak at a Niagara-on-the-Lake nursing home.

The large COVID outbreak at Niagara Long Term Care surged over the past two weeks. 

It grew to 90 active cases as of Wednesday, including 68 residents and 22 staff, executive director Chris Poos told The Lake Report. 

In addition, four residents and five staff have recovered, Poos said. A week ago there had been 25 cases and one death at the Wellington Street facility.

Niagara public health statistics on Wednesday showed 95 active cases in NOTL and 238 cases since the pandemic began. However, there also are nine confirmed cases at Pleasant Manor in Virgil and The Lake Report was unable to clarify the discrepancy in the active case numbers.

Last week at this time, NOTL had 62 active cases and 181 total. 

Vaccinations continue to be rolled out to residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake's three long-term care homes, despite troubles with the supply chain and outbreaks at the two facilities.

At Upper Canada Lodge, where there have been no positive tests, residents were the first to be vaccinated last Thursday. At Niagara Long Term Care, 33 residents and 18 staff were vaccinated on Saturday, Poos said.

At Pleasant Manor in Virgil, residents of the 41-bed long-term care home were given vaccinations on Wednesday.

Tim Siemens, chief executive of Radiant Care, which operates Pleasant Manor, said as far as he knew no residents declined to get the shot.

He said a vaccination clinic is scheduled Sunday, Jan. 24 for residents in Pleasant Manor's apartments and life-lease units — about 240 seniors.

The vaccine arrives as a COVID-19 outbreak continues at the facility. 

Siemens said Tuesday there were nine active cases of COVID-19 at Pleasant Manor, five among long-term care residents and four among staff.

He said the home is not aware of any positive cases among residents or staff in the non-long-term care part of the facility.

Siemens said staff have also started to get vaccinations.

"Our staff are elated that the vaccine has arrived in Niagara and that they can schedule vaccination appointments directly with Niagara Health. The Niagara Health appointment booking portal is very intuitive, which makes booking appointments very quick and easy."

While the outbreak is ongoing, the status of “heightened surveillance” for Pleasant Manor's housing program was lifted by Niagara Region public health on Jan. 16, Siemens said.

Poos said Niagara Long Term Care is working with the Ministry of Long Term Care to secure rapid tests for the home.

"This testing produces results in 15 minutes, which will give us real-time information to assist us in managing this outbreak," he said.

"We remain in regular contact with public health, along with other health system partners, and continue our ongoing weekly testing for staff and previously negative residents," Poos told The Lake Report.

"We are in regular contact with all residents, families and staff regarding the status of COVID-19 in our home, along with twice-weekly family town halls."

Poos said the facility is being diligent in following infection prevention and control measures, including twice daily screening of residents and staff for any signs of the COVID-19 virus, and regular testing.

Residents are also isolated to their rooms, receiving in-room meal service and are being cared for by staff on contact droplet precautions.

"We have appropriate staffing levels and all staff are wearing full personal protective equipment at all times, which is well stocked in the home," Poos said.

"We are thankful for the ongoing support of our families, staff and the community. A special thank you to our local MPP Wayne Gates for reaching out and offering his support to our home."

Poos said the facility has received a lot of support. "We've got lots of staff returning, we have lots of residents on the mend back to us." 

Meanwhile, Niagara Health employees were dealt another blow this week, as supply shortages of the Pfizer vaccine resulted in changes to Niagara’s vaccination plan.

Now, all first doses of vaccine are to be given to residents, staff and essential caregivers in long-term care and high-risk retirement homes.

"This is being done to ensure there is sufficient supply to vaccinate these individuals by Feb. 15. As a result, there will be a pause in vaccinating Niagara Health’s staff and physicians," Niagara Health said in a media release.

Dr. Mustafa Hirji, acting medical officer of health for Niagara Region, said, “It is frustrating that vaccines to Niagara are being reduced again, when we have only just started vaccinating.”

“We are directing what vaccine we still do have to where it will save the most lives: long-term care and retirement home residents."

These changes are the result of a significant reduction in Ontario’s supply of vaccine over the next several weeks while Pfizer’s European production facility retools to increase capacity, Niagara Health said.

"The provincial government is directing all regions, including Niagara, to prioritize first doses to residents, healthcare workers and essential caregivers in long-term care and high-risk retirement homes by Feb. 15 to protect those populations with the highest disease burden," the hospital group's statement said.

Lynn Guerriero, president and interim CEO of Niagara Health, also expressed frustration at the shortage. 

“The interruption in supply is deeply disappointing and impacts on our plans to continue vaccinating Niagara Health staff and physicians who are on the front line against COVID-19.”

Guerriero said she supports the province giving priority to "those most at risk in our long-term care and high-risk retirement homes. As soon as we have available supply, we will quickly ramp up our efforts to vaccinate as many staff and physicians as possible.”

Long-term care residents who have already received a first dose of the vaccine are expected to receive a second dose within 21 to 27 days from the first, the government guidelines say. Health care workers who got their first shot must receive the second within 42 days.

So far, there is no plan for Niagara to receive the Moderna vaccine, the hospital statement said.

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